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Illuminating Thoughts on Performance Management Part 1: Setting Performance Standards

This post is number 1 of 3 in a series of illuminating thoughts on Performance Management by Steve Farmer of Illuminet.

I have travelled many miles delivering workshops to different clients on the general heading of Performance Management. The exact content of each of those workshops has varied quite a bit, but there is one concept that underpins everything else. That is the concept of “setting standards”.

A “standard” is a definition of a level of performance that is “acceptable”, so if someone is performing at a level above the standard they should be receiving feedback that encourages them to keep doing what they are doing, or further coaching and help to allow them to do even better in the future. But if someone is performing at a level below that standard then their performance should be deemed as “unacceptable” and feedback needs to be given such that they are clear about that together with actions to bring their performance up.

Standards can be defined at whole company, departmental, team or individual levels. They need to define both the “what” and the “how” – so the terminology I use is that they need to be about “tasks” AND “behaviours”.

It is absolutely a CIO’s job to define them and communicate them to their teams and the individuals within the team.

My view, based on periodic sampling of businesses performance plans (or whatever term is given in your business to the recording of people’s objectives), is that they are often poorly defined and in more than a few instances, missing altogether.

There are many consequences of them not being well defined and unfortunately most of the consequences are negative or even potentially highly damaging. Here are just some:
  • If an individual or team does not know the standard, they cannot make a judgement of their own performance.
  • Without defined standards from a CIO, how can they even begin to assess the performance of their team?
  • If standards aren’t well defined it presents lots of what we would call “wriggle room”. Views as to someone’s performance become highly opinion based i.e. become far more subjective than objective.
  • Poor or under performance becomes hard to prove, which is great news if you are an employee at a performance tribunal. However, rather less fun if you are the employer attempting to remove a non-performer from your organisation.
So…maybe it’s worth undertaking a review of “standards”:
  • Are they in place for everyone in your team/organisation?
  • Have they been well defined and communicated?
  • Are they too easy/too tough?
  • Do you look to tweak them upwards annually, 6 monthly?
  • Do they cover both tasks and behaviours?
Next week we will look at what CIO’s need to do to see if standards are being met. If you have any questions or observations in relation to this topic please do leave a comment!

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